All My Clouds are Raining on My Parade


“You’ll notice that, unlike the 1TB cap for Office 365 subscribers, not all of these conditions are aimed at abusers. No one could reasonably conclude that using the 15GB of storage offered to free customers would count as abusive. Heck, most phones have more storage than that. For whatever reason, Microsoft is trying to conserve as much space as possible on their servers.”

Source: Microsoft Downgrading OneDrive Storage Plans For All Users

I’ve been pretty impressed with Microsoft’s Mac and iOS offerings lately.  In fact, I’ve started using OneNote a lot (more on this later).  I was just about the extend my Office 365 trial (even though I won’t install the apps on my Mac because I DON’T WANT OUTLOOK ON MY MAC, and they don’t let you selectively install just the apps you want).

And then this.  It’s not the end of the world.  But the explanation clearly wasn’t thought out well.  You were doing great Microsoft.  Why do this now?  If it’s really about excess use, then “hidden cap” the unlimited storage at an amount that almost no one will reach.  Using the outliers as a reason to hose everyone is either a bad idea or horrible PR.  Or both.

Sigh.  Now I’ve got to rethink my cloud.

I use iCloud a lot.  I use Dropbox and Google Drive a lot.  I use Amazon Cloud Drive for some things.  And I was about to start using OneDrive for some other stuff.  OneDrive is the easy out, except I really like OneNote.

I’ve got to come up with a new plan that doesn’t require a sky full of different clouds.  Way not to help, Microsoft.

Microsoft Office (Sort of) Comes to the iPad



To much, too late?

As I noted last night, Office should have been on the iPad years ago. I suspect Microsoft was mired down in some combination of failed strategies: trying to force people to buy a (horrible) Surface tablet, trying to force people to use its online services (which even if we wanted to, we couldn’t find them because their names change every other week), and trying to drag people to its online suite of Office products, Office365.

They seem to have given up on some of those strategies, but Meatloaf was wrong. 2 out of 3 is not enough.

I’m simply not going to pay Microsoft $70 a year, forever, to use Word (the only Office app I really need on my iPad). Rather, I’ll continue to use Word on my desktop until someone completes the ongoing process of making Office completely irrelevant. Yes, Word has a stranglehold on corporate America, but Microsoft seems to have either ignored or given up on the rest of the potential user base. And here’s the other thing: the exodus from traditional computers to tablets isn’t going to stop just because Microsoft makes an offer that everyone can refuse. Having Word on our iPads would be good. But not $70/year good.

officeipadSure, you can look at Office documents without a subscription, but hacking up features like that is as unnecessary and disjointed as, you know, having a tablet with two different versions of Windows on it. If they want to require us to use OneDrive (NOTE: by the time you read this, its name will likely have changed again) to sync and store documents, OK. But you can do that without making us pay a never-ending subscription charge.

I’m not saying Office for iPad should be free. Charge for it. $10, $20, whatever. If people will pay 3 figures for the various iterations of OmniFocus, people will probably sell their kids to buy Word.

Even if I was willing to pay $70/year for Office365, that only allows Office to be used on 1 PC (don’t own one) or Mac (I use three regularly). Sigh.

I guess I’m glad Office is closer to being available on iPads. But it’s not close enough for me to jump.

Why You Shouldn’t Buy a Microsoft Surface, Yet

I exist pretty happily in my Apple-filled tech cocoon.  I use an iMac on my desk, carry a MacBook Air in my backpack when on the road, have an iPhone 5 in my pocket, an iPad lying around somewhere, and an iPad Mini on the way to replace my ancient Kindle.  But that doesn’t mean I ignore or reject other tech, or treat Apple as a religion.  OK, well at least it doesn’t mean I ignore other tech.

I have been following the development and release of Windows 8 and Microsoft’s Surface tablet closely.  I installed most of the Windows 8 betas on an old laptop.  Without going into a lot of detail, my view of Windows 8 is that it is a transitional OS that will ultimately be much more Metro (or whatever we’re supposed to call it) and much less traditional desktop.  But they can’t move all our cheese at once, so we get the best (or perhaps worst) of both worlds for now.  I have no problem with this, although as a committed desktop user, I wonder how desktops fit into the largely mobile-focused evolution we are experiencing (a touch screen iMac- which I firmly believe will happen, one day- would put my mind at rest, but that’s a topic for another day).


I bought a Microsoft Surface RT shortly after they were released.  Here’s the bottom line.  The hardware is very, very nice.  Way better than any Android device.  The tablet looks and feels sturdy and nice, and the keyboard/cover works amazingly well.  The software, however, is very, very frustrating.  For two reasons.  One, there are simply very few compelling apps in the App Store.  This problem will likely be addressed over time, as developers fill what looks to be more than sufficient demand.  Two, the Surface RT cannot run regular Windows applications.  You get a bundled version of Office in the desktop environment, and Metro (or whatever we are supposed to call it) apps from the App Store.  This problem will not be fixed, as far as the Surface RT is concerned.

But there is hope.  And not just a fool’s hope.

Sometime next year, Microsoft will release the Surface Pro, which will run a full version of Windows 8- meaning you can install and use both Metro (or whatever we are supposed to call it) apps and regular Windows software.  This will be much, much better.  As good as an iPad at being an iPad?  Probably not, but as my pal Ed Bott correctly points out, that is not the standard by which it should be judged.  Will I dump my iPads for a Surface Pro?  Nope.  Will I buy one, thereby having an additional tool in my tech bag and a Windows computer in a house that otherwise would be devoid of one?  Probably not.  Especially if I’d have to pay for a subscription to get useful Office apps on my iPad (that plan irritates me, but makes sense from Microsoft’s perspective).  Will it be infinitely better than any manner of Android device, if for no other reason than Microsoft will manage the upgrade process with some semblance of logic and predictability?  Certainly.

So, if you want a Surface you should get one.  Next year.

Sky Drive Just Became a Contender in the Cloud Derby


With the rumored launch of Google Drive only somewhere between days and infinity away, the other cloud services (you know, the ones that actually exist) are going into overdrive trying to give us reasons to keep (or in some cases start) using their services.  Dropbox (my long-time cloud service of choice), just added additional sharing and viewing options.  Microsoft, whose generous 25GB of space has been hindered by Microsoft’s inability to properly market its online offerings and an arbitrary file size limit, followed suit today with some new features and, most importantly, a Mac (that’s right) and Windows desktop app.

I’m determined to consolidate my cloud use into one primary service.  Dropbox is clearly an option.  SugarSync is too, though I want something less complicated.  Box is not, simply because it makes it too hard to move files to and from its cloud.  Obviously, if Google Drive actually launches, it will be a contender.  In fact, if its space is consolidated and usable across all Google services (including Google Music, which but for the 20,000 song limit, would already be my music service of choice), Google Drive is probably the odds-on favorite, which tells you a lot about the baked-in advantage Google has when it comes to,  you know, the internet.

But let’s not count Microsoft out.  SkyDrive has a lot to offer.  Here’s a real time walk-through of my installation and experimentation with the new SkyDrive.

First, if you already have an account, you need to visit the SkyDrive site and get your “free upgrade,” which preserves your 25GB of space.  SkyDrive will soon limit free users to 7GB.  It’s easy to do, so do it.


Now, let’s get the desktop app.  Without boring you with a bunch of nerd talk, desktop apps are important when it comes to integration with your current file system (i.e., Windows Explorer or Finder) and syncing between computers.  I’m installing the Mac app, but I assume the Windows experience is similar.


Once you install the app, you get a Menu Bar item (good) and a Dock icon you can’t remove from the dock (Microsoft needs to fix this, but it’s not the end of the world).

The first time you run the desktop app, you can select the location of your local SkyDrive folder (this works much the same as with Dropbox).  I wanted to put my folder on my second hard drive, as opposed to my main SSD that I try (with only some success) to reserve for the OS and other system-related stuff.


Then it’s off to the races.  Click on the Menu Bar icon to access your local SkyDrive folder.  Looks very Dropbox-ish.


I’m going to drop a jpg in there.  Very nice.

Now let’s try a big file and see if that file size thing is still a problem. Doesn’t seem to be.


No right click>get public link feature, like Dropbox.  Looks like you have to go to the web interface (accessible via the Menu Bar icon) to do that.  Here’s the picture I added a moment ago.

It’s easier with Dropbox, but again, not a huge deal.

Now, I’ll install the app on my laptop and see how syncing works.

Perfectly.  The files started downloading as soon as I installed the app.

I am very impressed with SkyDrive.  I wish there was an option to buy space in more than 100GB increments.  100GB at $50 seem like a pretty fair deal, but I have lots more than 100GB of data I need to safely store/backup.  I will be interested to see the Google Drive space options and price.  I expect Google Drive will be at least as cheap, if not cheaper, but for some (me definitely included) Google’s insistence in weaving Google Docs and, especially, Google+ into every offering is a bit of a negative.  In other words, the race is on, and there is a dark horse making its move on the outside.

SkyDrive is a well designed service that is clearly in the running to be my preferred cloud service.

Great job Microsoft!  It feels good to get to say that again.

Microsoft Pushes Confusion to Education

This is what I meant the other night when I said that Microsoft needs a paradigm shift in the way it names and markets products.

The inclusion of SkyDrive- legitimate cloud storage- could give Microsoft a real advantage in the education market (since Google still hasn’t provided any).  But I can’t tell what’s what based on the information and quotes Microsoft released.

One thing I know for sure: there is no reason to have five separate versions of Office 365 for education.

Paul Thurrott tries to clear things up in his post (linked above), but there’s only so much he can do.  What could have generated interest generates only head-scratching and shrugs.

I genuinely believe that Microsoft has some compelling products.  I just can’t tell what they are.

Microsoft needs to greatly simply everything.  Every thing.

Is Google’s Haphazard App Development Path a Master Plan or an Epic Fail?

image Much of the time, it seems to me like Google develops apps the way a squirrel hides nuts.  Toss as many of ‘em out there as quickly as possible, knowing that you’ll come across some of them later, even as others are forgotten or lost.  Maybe this is a brilliant master plan, or maybe it’s a sign of something else.

Like a lack of focus?  Or a waste of resources?

As we all know, I started moving into the cloud last year.  As a part of that, I attempted to abandon Microsoft Office, and set myself and my family members up with a Google Apps account.  It wasn’t really a level playing field, though, since I still had Office on my downtown office computer and my work laptop.  It took about a week for my entire family to mutiny in the name of getting Office back.  I used Google Docs for my personal word processing, which involves mostly letters and some light spreadsheet work.  Even that was pretty frustrating.

But once school started and my kids had to actually create documents, the mutiny was in full force.  So I capitulated and reinstalled Office, less Outlook.  We all agree that Gmail is an acceptable (to them) and preferable (to me, because of the cloud-based location) email client.  Though, it’s worth pointing out, only Better Gmail 2 makes it so.  Without that fantastic add-on, even the Gmail interface is needlessly cluttered and you can’t collapse your tags (which I use as folder-equivalents).

While Gmail, at least when hacked right, is great, for anything other than your great grandmother’s level of word processing, Google Docs are completely and totally unworkable.  This is really surprising to me, since Google Apps has a Premium version, and at least up to now had the very real potential to do the two things Google loves most: make some money and hurt Microsoft.  But for some utterly insane reason, Google continues to let Google Apps lie in a fallow, disjointed state, preferring to devote its resources to adding needless social networking features.  None of which will ever make Google Apps the robust Microsoft killer it could be.

No one, and I mean no one, can tell me this makes any business sense.

So why is it happening?

At the same resource wasting time, Google continues to toss more nuts into the ground: Latitude (remember all the initial hoopla about this now forgotten location sharing app?), file sharing on iGoogle and something called Orkut (where the hell is the real GDrive?), Wave (which is about as happening as FriendFeed these days), Buzz (the buzz surrounding which had the half-life of Jesse James’ relationships), Google Reader (a great app that is being ignored in favor of the momentum play du jour).  The list goes on and on.

Seriously.  Does someone at Google HQ look out the window, see someone talking on a phone and and say “Hey, that reminds me.  Don’t we have an app called Google Voice, or something like that?  Let’s spend 10 minutes on that before we get back to this Twitter clone we’re working night and day on.”

The press, as a whole, doesn’t help.  Some combination of clue deficiency, Google lust and the need to say stupid things so people like me will click over to yell at them makes the press write articles that allow Google to pretend that all of this is going swimmingly.  When it’s so clearly not.

For example, I was astounded today to see an article at C|Net speculating, yet again, that maybe we don’t need Office anymore, because we can bathe in the wonder of Google Docs.  Then I noticed that this dude is a Linux guy.  I suppose when you think Linux is preferable to Windows 7, you probably think Google Docs is the greatest thing since the keyboard.  Still, this might be the single most blatantly incorrect sentence ever strung together:

And at some point, CIOs are going to realize that the vast majority of their employees don’t spend any time mucking around with pivot tables or drafting documents. At most, people use Outlook, and buying an entire Office license to get e-mail feels like overkill.

WHAT?  Are you kidding me?  People in companies all over America spend all day and all night doing exactly that.  And then sending those documents, with tracked changes (which of course Google Docs can’t do), to other people who take their turn.  Over and over.  Even the email part is wrong, as Outlook is the most dispensable part of Office.

To even suggest that corporate America could use Google Docs is to demonstrate that you’ve never spent a day working in corporate America.  It’s this problem that Google should be focused on.  Because the right cloud based application could serve corporate America.  Google Docs, as it currently exists, is about as far away from being that app as possible.

Paul Thurrott, taking a page out of my sermon book, gets it right:

I don’t believe that Google’s free tools–Google Docs, part of Google Apps–represent a technical or financial challenge to Office at all….  Microsoft Office is vastly superior to every single office productivity solution there is.

As Paul points out, about the only thing Google Apps can do for corporate America is serve as a stalking horse.

Open Office is a mostly workable solution, and does make Google Apps look pitiful by comparison, but then again so does Zoho.  For that matter so does a piece of chalk lying on a sidewalk.

Microsoft could own the cloud based office productivity space if it wanted to.  It just doesn’t want to yet- while the cloud is still forming.  We’re seeing the price of Office fall over time, clearly as a result of that stalking horse.  Perhaps Microsoft will eventually take flight (or be forced) into the cloud.

Until then, we will have to search for other options.

But Google Apps is not one.  It’s just another lost nut waiting to be rediscovered.

Microsoft Store: Moving at the Speed of a Glacier

image My kids are starting to compete for computer time on their shared computer, so I decided to revive the old but still very functional HP Laptop I used to experiment with Ubuntu (verdict: beautiful GUI made useless by a complete inability to configure a wireless card).  Since I wiped the hard drive, I needed to do a clean install of Windows. Having somewhat of a current software obsession, I decided to part with $216.49 to buy a Windows 7 Home Premium license.

All of this happened on Saturday, so I thought I’d save some time and buy this license at the online Microsoft Store.  Did I say this was Saturday?  Three long days ago?

After completing my purchase, I watched my inbox eagerly for my confirmation and Product Key.  I watched.  And watched.  And watched.

Then I decided to go on living my life, and forgot about the whole thing.

Until today, when I got that email, with the confirmation.  And the Product Key.  That’s 3 days.  72 hours.  4,320 minutes.  259,200 seconds.

Which is about 259,170 seconds longer than it should have taken.


In this real-time world where speed is measured in seconds, isn’t it crazy that an online purchase from Microsoft, of all companies, takes 3 days to complete!?

It would have been faster to have it delivered by pony express.  Or on a glacier.

Are Good Ideas and Big Business Mutually Exclusive Concepts?

I knew when Intuit purchased the up and coming personal finance site Mint, it was only a matter of time before Mint lost its freshness and became another stale online business.  What I didn’t know was that the transformation would begin so quickly.  Let’s be honest, trying to up-sell a “free credit report” is one more bad decision away from urging folks to yank out their gold teeth and send them to Cash4Gold.  Or, even better, to Cats4Gold.

It just sounds desperate, doesn’t it?  I mean, if this is what Intuit brings to the table, why did it even bother?  Seriously.

As we talked about yesterday, News Corp, perhaps trying to prove that it can do something even dumber than buying MySpace, is thinking about yanking its books out of the Google card catalog.  Microsoft, trying to put the world back in order after a rare PR success with the launch of Windows 7, seems to be willing to pay News Corp to do so.  Someone up in that cloud of arrogance and wealth has to know this won’t work.  Which means that they are really just using consumers as fodder in a jealousy-induced feud with Google.  No thanks.  I’ll pass.

imageElsewhere, the web is littered with the corpses of abandoned projects and services that were acquired by big companies, only to die on the balance sheet.  Over and over, ideas are hatched, nurtured until some bigger fish takes the bait, sold. . . and die.  Leaving all the users that created all that alleged value out in the cold.

There seem to be a couple of repeating patterns.

One, someone creates a service that is some combination of really cool or really hyped.  Lots of traffic results, and some big company with lots of money gets fooled (again) into thinking all those eyeballs can be monetized.  The big company buys the cool/hyped service, tries without success to stuff the free-formed service into a dollar-sized hole, and ends up shuttering it or selling it at a huge discount.

Two, companies realize that they can’t beat the competition on the field by creating and promoting a good product, so they conspire to change the rules.  This is kindergarten politics, engaged in by the super-rich, at the expense of the rest of us.  Yep, it’s the man getting one over on us.  Again.

Even so, none of this is good for the purchasing company.  Certainly, none of this is good for the consumer, who gets dragged all over the place and then abandoned.  The only ones making any money on these deals are the serial service creators and the early investors who invest a little money in order to get a big chunk of the purchase price.  Numbers being what they are, a few hits can finance a lot of misses.  And, again, consumers get taken for a ride.

At the end of the day, I don’t see how this does anything other than discourage innovation.  With everything being based on either ads, which no one likes, or getting bought by Google, which is becoming more and more of a long shot, there is little incentive to try to create the sort of value that people would- hold your ears- pay for.  When did paying for value become so out of fashion?

Or is it that many of these services aren’t as value-producing as some would have us believe?

One thing is for sure- if the developers don’t believe in their product enough to charge for it, then why should users believe in it?  This is the root of the problem, because lots of people would happily pay for a good, reliable service that isn’t likely to disappear or get sold to a big, clueless mega-company.

Want an example?

I pay for a premium account at Remember the Milk, solely because it integrates so well with Gmail and Google Calendar.

I would gladly pay for Disqus comments, if they could make the “Reactions” feature work reliably (it doesn’t presently).

There are plenty of others.

We just need to figure out how to make good ideas and big business compatible.

What Will Office 2010 Look Like?

Here are a few early screenshots of Microsoft’s Office 2010.  Candidly, I find the whole ribbons thing to be an exercise in chaos and frustration.  But I’m not sure it would matter if they were as intuitive as dodging snowballs.

Why? Because here’s a screenshot of what I expect my Office 2010 to look like.


I don’t know how hard Google is chasing the corporate market, but if it has serious designs on attracting business users, it simply must implement some sort of tracked changes or version/compare feature.  The absence of that feature is the primary thing keeping me from using Google Docs as my primary word processor at home, but it is an indispensable thing for business users.

Here are a few other tweaks that would make Google Docs more attractive to me.

There should be a way to synch your iPhone calendar and contacts with the corresponding Google app without affecting- or even touching- your Exchange synchs.  I tried to synch my phone and the Google apps and ended up with multiple instances of the same contacts and events, which was a pain to sort out.  In sum, it was an unmitigated disaster.  I’m not going to risk jacking up my much more important Exchange synchs, and no big company is going to make it easy to do three-way synchs, for security/paranoia reasons.  But it would be cool to have my iPhone synch separately with Exchange and the Google apps.  It would even be acceptable to have contacts and calendar entries pushed out to the Google apps, without the ability to move data the other direction.  But all of this needs to happen without doing anything unpleasant to the Exchange synchs.

Gmail needs to finally figure out a way to suppress the “on behalf of” business when your email is read in Outlook.  I’d be happy to use the Gmail interface, but I want to use my existing email account.  I’m not willing to trust Google as the sole archive of my old emails, but MailStore Home looks like an acceptable way to archive email locally.

It would also be great if Gmail allowed folders for us dinosaurs who are more comfortable with folders than tags.  I think this is a design limitation, as opposed to a philosophical position on Google’s part, but I have no basis for that other than intuition.

Gmail should add an option to have spam deleted immediately, without ever being seen, and to have your trash folder emptied more frequently.  I’d have it emptied every day.  The best thing about Gmail is the spam filter.  I want to supercharge it and let it make all spam invisible to me all the time.  I’ve never noticed a legitimate email in my spam folder, but I don’t care if there is.  If someone wants to contact me badly enough, they’ll write again.

I also need the ability to customize the links at the top of the Google apps page.


I’m not going to use Picasa for my photos, no matter what.  I want to replace that link with a link to Flickr or Photobucket.  I also want a link to iGoogle up there, as well as links to my internet starting page and my Content Master page.  In sum, I need more flexibility to customize the page layout and content.

Finally, Google needs to take a page from Lost and pledge not to give up on Google Docs like it did on Google Notebook and various other apps.  It’s difficult to migrate to a watering hole that could dry up at any time.

I’m close to going all Google Docs all the time, but I need a little more incentive.